Deskside

Inside Instagram’s Favorite Candy Shop

Maayan Zilberman of Sweet Saba can turn Valentine’s candy into pure fashion.

By: Katie Becker
Photography: Alec Kugler

When guests departed the Noon by Noor fall 2018 runway show this week, they left with sparkling edible feathers made out of hard candy and coated in gold glitter, inspired by details in the collection. At this point most people in fashion and beauty in New York, or fans of brands like Irene Neuwirth, W magazine, Delpozo, and Bergdorf Goodman (she’s sold in Linda Fargo’s shop inside the department store), would likely recognize the handiwork of Maayan Zilberman, the mastermind behind Sweet Saba. Her Instagram is packed with insanely cute (and delicious!) hard candies in fun shapes, painted in bright colors, that are basically begging to be a Valentine’s gift—and immediately Instagrammed. This year, she’s created heart-shaped shot glasses and floral cocktail rings.

“I’m able to make so much with my hands, and it makes people smile no matter who you are or where you’re from,” says Zilberman, who was formerly the co-founder of lingerie brand The Lake & Stars. “There’s a beautiful moment when someone realizes the work is actually candy and edible, and that’s magical; witnessing the delight is worth all the times I’ve burned my fingers in the kitchen.”

We took a mini Willy Wonka-type visit to the Sweet Saba candy factory—a studio space in Brooklyn—to see where the confectioner makes the magic happen. Of course, she had perfectly painted red nails with which to model her latest delights (she makes a special set of candies just to be photographed separately from the goods that go out to be eaten) in a shade that just so happens to be called Sweet Saba red—a color the nail brand Orly made just for Zilberman. See? Everyone wants a piece of her. Including us. Click through below to see some of her favorite creations and read how she came up with her genius brand.

“I named the company for my Saba, which is Hebrew for 'grandfather.' He and I used to experiment with materials—anything from food ingredients to Krazy Glue to gunpowder and nail lacquers. My desire to create this business in his honor was not to mimic recipes we made in the kitchen, but to remind myself to always experiment and to try things out the ‘wrong’ way. Most people don’t know I have no culinary training.”

“I worked as a creative director and designer in the lingerie world for over a decade, with my line The Lake & Stars and then Fredericks of Hollywood, working on a full rebrand. During the course of the rebrand, I felt like my hands were moving further and further away from the process of making things; I really missed the joy I’d get out of making something by hand or designing a product and having it immediately to share it.”

“I started making sugar figurines in my kitchen at home as a side thing, and posting it online, really as a diary. People started asking about it as an artist series, and I had the opportunity to open a pop-up shop in a gallery in NYC a few weeks later, so I took the risk and just did it. I figured nobody knew it was a new career, so there was virtually no risk aside from the effort and modest cost of setting it all up.”

“[I knew I would make this a real business] at the pop-up shop, which I conceptualized as a Rock Shop, or Crystal Emporium. It was well received, and I loved being able to connect with customers of all ages and demos, something I’d missed out on for years while creating lingerie.”

“I received some positive press, which led to larger projects for The Golden Globes, The Whitney Museum, Jimmy Choo, a few others—and when I looked at the unique business model, I saw that this looked like a much more enjoyable day job than anything I’d done before. And just as lucrative, if not more so.”

“I start by sculpting original designs by hand, then I create a cast of it. Depending on the scale of the project, I’ll have sample or industrial molds made, which is a really fun process much like the art of jewelry-making.”

“Most of my work is hard candy, which is a poured process, but I have started some new products that are either extruded or ‘sand’ casted, which makes the mold one of a kind. I finish off most of my candy with a blow torch, which provides the magical shine.”

“I love to dress up when I’m in the kitchen. It makes the work feel like more of an event, and I stand up straight. It also makes me more alert to any dangers like burns or fires. I prefer not to have sleeves while working with the sugar, and I like a nipped waistline so my apron can wrap easily. I have a collection of hairbands for the kitchen, and a variety of platform shoes so I’m tall enough for the high counter I built for pouring candy.”

“The thing that makes my candy most unique is how I make each piece a bit different, and how they’re finished with my own recipe of ‘watercolor’ paints. They end up looking like a miniature painting, less commercial or factory-made. You can always tell when it’s a Sweet Saba candy. ”

“I also work with a flavorist who customizes my candy flavors each season, so that’s unusual and proprietary.”

On her most challenging project: “A pair of giant drop earrings I made in collaboration with Delpozo—they were super delicate but also very heavy. The bigger challenge, however, was living up to the designer Josep Font, who I admire so much.”

On her most over-the-top request: “I created a huge installation at Art Basel Miami last year, which as most know is a very humid location. Humidity and salty air are the enemies of candy, it melts instantaneously. We transported each sugar sculpture as though it were a newborn in the ICU, and unveiled the work for just a few moments before it got clouded over by the salt in the air. It was a jaw-dropping experience—so poetic. Especially since the sculptures were stacks upon stacks of $100 bills!”

“I do love candy. Less so as I get older, but I’ll always [be] obsessed with the processes of making it.”

What she does while she works: “I listen to a lot of podcasts and a mix of the few playlists I’ve been listening to for decades… I also make new playlists when I have large-scale projects, so I always think of that process when I hear the songs later on. Lighting is huge for my work; I recently moved to a studio on the 22nd floor where I have a view of the river and sunset each day, and it makes my days all the more inspired.”

“My favorite days are when clients visit the studio—that's when we can collaborate on concepts and it feels like I’m stretching the idea I started with.”

“I have some really wonderful assistants I’ve trained since we started. I like to hire people who are deeply curious and like to experiment.”

On whether she has any other hobbies or side hustles:“I’ve learned that what makes me happiest is zeroing in on one thing and making it more of a meditation rather than trying to be everything to everyone. I love collaborating with friends, so whatever we can create together is a hobby for me. Having said that, does a TV show, cannabis candy, home line, or nail polish collection count as side hustle?”

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